Virtual You, Virtual Me, Real Learning…

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Virtual worlds…they have been around for quite some time, and are often associated with video gaming or social interaction activities. However, there is a new storm brewing on the forefront of technology. Virtual worlds like SecondLife are being used to provide an educational learning experience to students. Who would have thunk?!

Many of us have experienced some type of virtual world experience whether it be through a video game or apps of sorts. Some that come to mind are: any gaming console like Wii, PS4 XBOX, etc., Farmville, The Sims, The Simpsons Tapped Out, Second Life, etc. However, how many of you would say that you have participated in those worlds for a learning experience? I think many of us don’t tend to think about using apps or games like these for a defined learning experience. While many of those games have specific tasks that need to be accomplished, and sometimes require a certain amount of an item, like currency or points they can indicate indicated achievement and success. The same principles could be applied to a learning experience. In an educational setting, many learning activities are driven by objectives or desired outcomes. Open virtual worlds like SecondLife make it difficult to narrow down learning experiences because they are so broad. While that has it’s pluses, I think it would be difficult for a teacher to engage students in a specific learning activity with a broad program.

Currently, I do not associate learning experiences with 3D virtual worlds like Second Life, the Sims, or any other similar platform, because they are not designed to guide a participant to achieving a specific outcome or objective. They are merely a participatory experience where you can interact with others, human or AI. I believe that the education world has a while to go before virtual worlds have a place in our learning environments. I am thinking about the current struggles many public K-12 districts are going through just to get computers, SmartBoards, projectors, or other technology devices in their schools. Not to mention that IT support for districts is a large battle. Coming from the perspective of a teacher, time and training is another large issue. I think there is immense potential for virtual worlds to impact learning down the road, but it will require dedicated time and training to ensure that the teachers can successfully implement such activities to positively impact student learning.

I think there is potential for activities surround art history. Janette Grenfell from Deakin University published a paper that discusses the University’s use of virtual worlds for art based activities. “These constructed environments support interaction between communities of learners and enable multiple simultaneous participants to access graphically built 3D (three dimensional) environments, interact with digital artifacts and various functional tools and represent themselves through avatars, to communicate with other participants and engage in collaborative art learning” (Grenfell, pp. 391). I think a 3D virtual world would be a great way to introduce students to a specific culture or time period, and the art derived from it. At Newtown Middle School, we teach art through a cultural timeline, and we are always looking for a way to introduce a culture in an interesting way to the students, because it can be boring. A virtual world would allow them to interact with the culture, associated artifacts and each other to start a dialogue about what they have observed and their reactions. Something like this would require us art teachers to have the time and capabilities to develop such an environment catered to our specific needs. Currently, we are struggling just to find time to meet as a whole district art cohort to revise curriculum, so I am not too sure where we would find the time and support to develop something like this. Eventually, I think we will see this in the classroom, but it has a while to go before it gets there.

In the meantime, here are some websites on helpful tips on how you might integrate virtual worlds into learning experiences in your classroom:

http://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/top-20-uses-of-virtual-worlds-in-education/

http://www.societyforhistoryeducation.org/pdfs/A13_Morgan.pdf

http://www.avatarstorytellers.com/default.asp?iId=HILHG

References:

Grenfell, J. (2013). The Best of All Worlds: Immersive Interfaces for Art Education in Virtual and Real World Teaching and Learning Environments. Online Submission.

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